The coronavirus pandemic has impacted many non-COVID diseases and health conditions. Among these are neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), a group of communicable diseases caused by viruses, parasites, and bacteria. NTDs affect an estimated 1 billion people in 149 countries.
Efforts to control and eliminate these diseases center on health campaigns like mass drug administrations (MDAs) and other community activities that test, treat, and protect large numbers of people where the diseases are endemic. With the onset of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that countries pause campaigns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While fighting the pandemic remains the highest priority, it raised the risk of uncontrolled NTDs spreading and slowing progress toward the global goal of eliminating the NTD epidemic by 2030, requiring countries to balance both needs.
The Task Force’s Mectizan® Donation Program (MDP) has continued to supply medicines for the elimination of river blindness (onchocerciasis) and lymphatic filariasis (LF) as requested by countries “while inviting them to observe WHO safety guidance,” said Yao Sodahlon, MD, Director of MDP. “With the implementation of COVID-19 protocols to ensure safety for health workers and participant communities, we anticipate MDAs will become more expensive, and countries are worried about the effect of the economic downturn on funding for public health interventions outside of COVID-19.”
However, there is cause for some optimism. A few countries have already resumed MDAs due to new WHO guidance on how to conduct risk assessments for resuming health campaigns. Taking into consideration country-specific needs and protocols, each country will be completing these assessments and resuming MDAs at their own pace.
In the meantime, The Task Force and NTD partners have been tracking the impact of pausing MDA efforts and other health interventions. Across the six NTDs The Task Force works to eliminate, recent data shows that elimination goals will not be greatly impacted as long as all MDAs are resumed by 2021.